Is It Ethical to Force People to Gamble?


A lottery is a gambling game in which people pay to participate and have a chance to win prizes. People spend billions of dollars a year on lottery tickets. The lottery is often promoted as a way to raise money for a public good, but there are serious questions about the effectiveness of this method of raising revenue and whether or not it’s ethical to force people to gamble.

Lotteries have a long history, starting with the ancient practice of drawing lots to determine everything from the next king of Egypt to who gets to keep Jesus’s garments after his crucifixion. They became common in the Roman Empire (Nero was a fan) and are mentioned in the Bible, where they were used for everything from determining a king to deciding who should be killed in a battle.

In the modern era, states began offering lotteries to make money and they quickly proved popular. In the nineteen-sixties, Cohen writes, states were facing budget crises and balancing them was challenging because they couldn’t raise taxes or cut services without upsetting anti-tax voters. Lotteries seemed like a magical solution, letting them bring in millions of dollars without having to increase taxes or sacrifice services.

Many people play the lottery because they enjoy it and don’t mind spending a little money on the chance to get something big. But, for many people who play for years and spend $50 or $100 a week, it can become an addiction. These people don’t deny that the odds are bad and they know that there are better ways to spend their money. They just feel that they have a tiny, sliver of hope that winning the lottery will give them a better life.

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